The second largest Castle in Europe, Caerphilly was built by one of Henry III’s most powerful and ambitious Barons, Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, in 1270. Today much of it is ruined, but nonetheless it remains a striking place to visit, with a particular highlight being the famous leaning tower that even manages to “out-lean” Pisa. Apart from some remodelling of the Great Hall, Caerphilly is a relatively pure example of 13th-century military architecture. In the latter part of the 18th century, the first Marquess of Bute and his descendants began a programme of preservation, which led to one of the inner towers and the Great Hall being extensively restored.
After the castle, we will then return to Cardiff for a panoramic drive through the Welsh capital, with sights including the Castle and its surrounding estate, the grand City Hall, and the National Museum & Gallery of Wales. To celebrate the new millennium in 2000, many outstanding new buildings and attractions were built, including the Millennium Sports Stadium. The National Assembly is a monument of pride, giving the people of Wales a centre for their political voice, while the Welsh Millennium Centre is an amazing entertainment centre and home to the Welsh National Opera. Cardiff’s dockland has been transformed and now boast a large freshwater lake for watersports and sailing. Finally, after touring the city, you may then choose to remain in Cardiff and return to Aegean Odyssey on your own, or return directly to the ship aboard your coach
Tynwald Hill, located in the little village of St John’s, is a grass topped, tiered hill made with soil and stones from each of the Isle of Man’s seventeen parishes. Every July 5th, all the laws that have been enacted over the past year are promulgated to a gathering of government officials and the public at large, both in Manx (Gaelic) and English. It is a procedure that has been in continuous use for well over a thousand years and as such entitles the Island to lay claim to being the oldest self-governing nation in the world. After strolling around the site of this important Manx custom, there will be time to visit an exhibition in the nearby church hall on the history of the event, after which we will then continue to the city of Peel, a thriving Manx fishing port with a marine heritage spanning hundreds of years, where the magnificent ruins of Peel Castle, located on St Patrick’s Isle, dominate the landscape.
Before becoming the fort of Magnus Barefoot – the 11th-century Viking King of Mann – Peel Castle was originally a place of worship. Here you will be able to climb to the top of the Gatehouse Tower for panoramic views of Peel, and then enter what would have been the 16th-century Great Garrison Hall. We will also visit St Patrick’s Church and the Round Tower, dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries, then step underground into the crypt of the 13th-century Cathedral of St German.
Finally, you will be able to enjoy some free time in Peel, before our return to Douglas.
Stirling is situated on one of the many loops of the River Forth that rise abruptly from the flat plains, making it a fortress with a colourful but blood-stained history. Thanks to its strategic position, guarding the route north, the city has been an important citadel ever since the earliest of times, bitterly fought over and bravely defended. As a result, its possession has been the focus of contention for many centuries, with battles like Bannockburn being fought in its shadow, which is why there is good reason for the castle to be known as the ‘Key to Scotland’.
On this tour we will drive through the old town to the present castle, which mainly dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1451 James III was born here; James V spent his childhood here; and on the 9th September 1543 the infant Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here. During your excursion you will be able to explore the castle at your leisure, including the curtained wall and flanking towers of the turreted gatehouse; the Great Hall; the Chapel Royal; and one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in Scotland, the Palace.
Departing from the pier at Falmouth, your route takes you through Cornwall's city of Truro, offering a view of the three-spired cathedral, then cross the peaceful countryside of small villages, granite farmhouses and hedged fields before arriving at Eden. On arrival at the Eden Project, near St Austell, you will have approximately three hours to visit this dramatic global garden at your leisure.
The Eden Project opened in April 2001 and is the world's largest global garden. The effect is breathtaking: a cultural melting pot of global plants, both wild and cultivated, are housed in a glass dome large enough to fully enclose the Tower of London in its 60 meter deep crater. The Garden of Eden contains plants and trees ranging from the Amazon to West Africa to Malaysia and is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world.
As well as the outdoor landscape, there is a chance to visit the biomes – giant conservatories with cathedral-like qualities. The Humid Tropics Biome allows you to experience the sights, smells, and sheer scale of the rainforest in the world’s largest conservatory, whilst the Warm Temperate Biome showcases the world from the Mediterranean to South Africa and California, demonstrating how the plants thrive on drought and poor thin soils. Learn about the inter-relationship between men and plants throughout history and marvel at the interesting displays and retail outlets. Following a day indulging the senses re-board your motorcoach for the journey back to the pier.
Transfer from the ship to Marazion before arriving at St Michael’s Mount, a place described as the jewel in Cornwall’s crown. Separated from the mainland by a causeway covered by sea at high water, St Michael's Mount beats to a pace of life ruled by weather and tides.
Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims over the ages who have looked out over the rocky ledge on the western side of the island. It was here, according to legend, a vision of the Archangel St Michael appeared to some fishermen in the year 495. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the invaders were struck by the similarity of the mount to their own Mont St Michel off the Normandy coastline, whose monks were invited to build a smaller abbey here in Cornwall. During Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, St Michael’s Mount was turned into a coastline defence to protect England from feared French invasion. In 1659, the Mount was purchased by Sir John St Aubyn whose descendants turned the fortress into a magnificent residence and still reside in this ancestral home today.
Enjoy a guided tour of the Castle on St Michael’s Mount followed by some free time to take photographs and soak up the scenery. There are also some wonderful shops around the harbour area – the perfect place to buy a memento of your day.
Cross back over to Marazion and spend some free time in this tranquil, beautiful coastal town. Enjoy stunning views towards the Lizard Peninsula as you marvel at its clean, sandy beaches before re-boarding your coach for the return journey back to Falmouth.
St Peter Port has a fascinating history. A busy port since Roman times, its deep, safe anchorage and relative remoteness from France has made the town the Channel Islands’ premier harbour. It is a picturesque town with cobbled streets and narrow alleys filled with Regency buildings.
Our first destination will be Castle Cornet, originally built on an island and now reachable by a 19th-century raised walkway. The castle dates from the 13th Century and was built on the site of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements for use as a fortification against the French following the English loss of Normandy. Since then it has been partially destroyed and rebuilt many times to guard the entrance to the harbour and offer a sea defence between the islands of Herm, Jethou and Guernsey, and towards Sark over many centuries.
After your guide has taken you around the key highlights, you will have free time to enjoy the ‘Story of Castle Cornet’ exhibition or explore the castle and some of its four small gardens within the walls, including the apothecary’s garden, kitchen garden and ornamental gardens. The castle contains a number of other interesting museums including the Maritime Museum, the Story of Castle Cornet Museum, the 201 Squadron RAF (Guernsey's Own) Museum and the Militia Museum. You will then be able to return to Aegean Odyssey with your guide or on your own through the town.
Caernarfon is one of the historic centres of Wales that secured its place in tradition soon after King Edward I began building the castle and walled town here in 1283. One year later, after his son, the future King Edward II, was born within its precincts, according to legend, the infant was immediately presented to the people of Wales as their prince.
When in 1301 Edward was formally invested as the first English Prince of Wales, he was also endowed with the rule and revenues of the Crown’s Welsh lands. From then onwards, the eldest son of the sovereign is customarily known as the ‘Prince of Wales’. On 1st July 1969, almost seven centuries later, Prince Charles was formally invested at Caernarfon by his mother Queen Elizabeth II as the twenty-first in this long line of Princes of Wales and heirs to the throne.
Your tour of Caernarfon Castle will give you a fascinating insight into one of the most impressive of all the castles built by Edward I, which is thought to have been modelled on those of Constantinople. This stronghold had to be capable, if occasion required, of accommodating the household of the king’s eldest son along with his council, his family, guests and all those who attended them. Arguably the finest castle in Britain, it has two main gatehouses, and though the Queen’s Gate was never completed, the King’s Gate has been cited as the supreme British example of the immense strength of medieval fortification.
Tresco is best known for its Abbey Gardens that were laid out by the remarkable Augustus Smith, a wealthy merchant banker who purchased the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall in the mid-1830s. Work on the gardens commenced in 1834 on the site of the old Benedictine Abbey, and by building tall windbreaks, Augustus Smith (a botanist and plant collector) was able to channel the weather up and over the network of walled enclosures he built around the Priory ruins.
The three terraces he carved from the rocky, south facing slope looking towards St Mary's were thus able to maximize the generous climate that Tresco enjoys thanks to the prevailing effects of the Gulf Stream. The climate is mild, with sunshine hours generally greater than the UK average. The rainfall is also less, while winter frost and snow is unexpected.
Something of a perennial Kew Gardens, but without the glass, Tresco seems able to shrug off the salty spray and Atlantic gales, to host around 20,000 exotic plants, many of which would stand no chance on the Cornish mainland, less than 30 miles away. Yet even during the winter equinox more than 300 plants will be in flower here. All in all, the garden is home to species from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa, which is why today it remains a major attraction of the islands.
To the west of Kirkwall, on Orkney’s largest island, the gentle rolling landscape gives way to Mainland’s Neolithic heartland as you travel into an area with a wealth of pre-historic archaeology that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Passing the Standing Stones of Stenness, we will stop at the Ring of Brodgar – a huge ceremonial circle of stones dating back almost 5,000 years – before continuing to the similarly ancient village of Skara Brae, which was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC.
Here you will see the remarkable dwellings that were revealed from beneath sand dunes by storms only 150 years-ago. There are eight in all, making it the most complete Neolithic village in Europe that also has a beautifully interpreted visitor centre for you to explore.
Dramatically perched atop a 250-foot extinct volcano, Stirling Castle dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was the principal residence for Scotland's monarchs. The castle's turbulent history is populated with a host of celebrated figures in Scotland's history, such as Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots. A great symbol of Scottish independence, this royal residence and fortress affords magnificent views from its rocky cliff. A self-guided tour takes you into the vast Great Hall, which dates to the Middle Ages and has been restored to its former glory. See the central turreted gatehouse, the great Parliament Hall, and the Royal Chapel, one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in Scotland. Photo opportunities abound as you immerse yourself in Scotland’s history; there are excellent views of the town of Stirling and the site of the battle of Bannockburn. After your tour, you will then have time to browse for souvenirs in the castle's gift shop before returning to Aegean Odyssey.
Alive with culture and history, the capital of Scotland is a thriving UNESCO World Heritage Site. This walking tour of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh's oldest and most historic street, will take you from the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a route rich with medieval buildings, statues and monuments lining both sides of the street.
The city's dominant landmark is the 12th-century castle atop its rocky, extinct volcanic perch, which affords magnificent views of the city. From here we will walk to Castle Hill, which has a unique collection of ruins, before continuing down Royal Mile to see beautiful Gladstone's Land, a superb example of early 17th-century architecture featuring an outside staircase, arcaded ground floor, oak shutters, leaded glass windows and crow-stepped gables.
The charming Lady Stair's House, also constructed in the 17th century, was once a private home, but today houses a literary museum devoted to the works of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
We will then walk through the elegant district of Cannongate, with its quaint Tollbooth that is now a museum detailing life in 18th-century Edinburgh. The design on this building has a delightful series of small, delicate turrets. Finally, standing proudly at the end of Royal Mile, is the magnificent Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen while in Scotland. This ornate, baroque palace is famously known as the home of Mary Queen of Scots and within its walls many dramatic episodes of her turbulent reign unfolded.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, first saw Barrogill Castle in 1952 while mourning the death of her husband, King George VI. Falling for its ruined isolated charm, and hearing that it was about to be abandoned, she decided to purchase it and return the castle to its original name of Mey.
It took two years to renovate the Mey and its parkland, including the delightful garden that, thanks to the twelve-foot high ‘Great Wall of Mey’, is protected from the fierce winds and salt spray blowing in from the Pentland Firth. Indeed the Great Wall was so successful, The Queen Mother even managed to nurture her favourite rose, Albertine, here.
As part of your guided tour of the castle and gardens, you will be able to learn more about why this property was so close to The Queen Mother’s heart, and also about Prince Charles’ commitment to the future of the Castle of Mey today.
We will then make a brief stop at Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland, which is a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve and home to a lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson in 1831, before returning to Scrabster.